Tag Archives: Debt

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Whenever I start talking about issues regarding the budget, I tend to get a few responses that go like this: the Democrats are pragmatic and the Republicans are crazy.

I tend to roll my eyes when I hear that because I tend to think it’s too simplistic and tends to look at any and all political issues in a black and white viewpoint.  I like to believe life is a lot more complicated than that. That, and most of the folks that are saying this seem to be hard partisans that will always find the other side as crazy while they are rational and sane.

While I don’t think the entire GOP is nuts, there is always a bit of truth in everything.  There are those in the GOP who I think are able to control the debate when it comes to the budget.  They have turned tax policy into a religion and not in a good way.

David Brooks takes the Republicans to task for basically squandering a perfect opportunity to get control of federal spending.  As Brooks notes in today’s column, the GOP has in many ways “won” the debate on spending and has forced the Democrats’ hand when it comes to the budget.

But instead of declaring victory and making a deal which would include closing tax expenditures and maybe even raising taxes, the party has not budged from its “no-taxes” stance, risking the federal government to default in a month’s time. Here’s what Brooks notes about the GOP.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

Brooks pretty much tears the GOP a new one for not acting like a political party that makes deals and instead like a protest movement that doesn’t allow for any compromise.

And he’s correct in doing so.

Politics is and has always been a mix of compromise and principle.  It’s one thing to talk use ideology as a governing framework to guide oneself in a democratic society.  It’s is another thing to use ideology as something to hide behind, to keep yourself from governing and representing the people.

What the GOP is being asked to do is to accept closing some tax loopholes and subsidies.  Yes, that would mean “taxes would rise.” But really, are we talking about raising rates back to the Eisenhower era of 9o some percent?  No.

What this comes down to is what the GOP wants to be in the next few years.  It can choose to be a governing political party that accepts compromise and takes into account that there is another political party that they have to deal with, or it can choose to be a protest movement that doesn’t care as much about governing than it does getting accross it’s ideological message.  It can’t be both.

Republicans have an opportunity to make more inroads in 2012.  They actually might have a chance to win the White House.  But if the party chooses ideological conformity over responsible governing, they can expect to see those chances slip away.  As David Brooks says at the end of his column:

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Indeed.